Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Color & School: Color and Energy to Promote Learning

By Denise Turner, ASID, CID, CMG

Ask any teacher what influences a child’s ability to learn and you’ll get a variety of responses. Most teachers will cite teaching techniques, parental involvement, and curriculum. But it’s highly unlikely that they will mention color, let alone the colors in their classrooms. 

While color’s impact is often overlooked, it is an inseparable part of our everyday lives. It’s inherent in everything we see and do. In fact, studies in color psychology indicate that color plays a major role in productivity, emotions, communication, and learning. 

Can color help learning? You bet it can! The educational environment is a clear example of how color shapes our behaviors and personal experiences. Plus, a well-designed color palette can enhance the absorption of information and facilitate the thinking process. Color can also help to define a room’s purpose: i.e. whether it is for quiet study, relaxation, or collaboration. 

Color is part of many fields of study, such as color theory, physics, architecture, and art, and it can be established in many ways. The artist, interior designer, architect, physicists, and psychologists all have different approaches to and thoughts regarding the use of color. Interestingly, the artist is closer to the psychologist than you might suspect. 
Psychologist Ulrich Beer describes the far-reaching emotional and psychological effects of color: “Seldom, surely, is the psychological part of an appearance in nature so great as it is in the case of color. No one can encounter it and stay neutral. We are immediately, instinctively, and emotionally moved. We have sympathy or antipathy, pleasure or disapproval within us as soon as we perceive colors” (Beer 1992, p.11).

Unfortunately, when it comes to color choices in the learning environment, cost-cutting and ease of cleaning trump aesthetics. The majority of public school color choices are generally made by well-meaning teachers, administrative and maintenance staff. Many times, colors are selected based on administrators’ personal tastes and not on scientific principles. Schools rarely employ professional consultants. This explains why so many campuses end up falling into ho-hum institutional colors like gray and beige. 
Let’s face it, in recent years, schools have been in the news for some scary events. Schools should convey the feeling of safety and reflect a place that cares about students. 

Why Color Matters
Have you ever wondered why color is one of the first things we learn in school? Why not our phone number or street address? Why not letters and numbers? Why not animals? Here’s why! 

According to the article “Why Colors and Shapes Matter” by Ellen Booth Church, former Associate Professor of Early Childhood at SUNY Farmingdale, we learn about color from such an early age because: color and shape are two very noticeable attributes of the world around us. When you look out your window, you may not be saying it... but your mind is noticing and identifying the green trees, brown rectangle buildings, square windows, and blue sky. Color and shape are ways children observe and categorize what they see. These very recognizable characteristics encourage children to define and organize the diverse world around them.Church also says: “Color is one of the first ways your preschooler makes distinctions among things she sees; color words are some of the first words she uses to describe these things.” 

Studies on emotion and color have demonstrated correlations between color and positive and negative feelings. The 2004 study “Relationship Between Color and Emotion,” conducted by researchers Kaya & Epps on color associations among college students, found the following:
Green- is associated with relaxation and calmness, followed by happiness, comfort, peace, hope, and excitement.
Yellow- is associated with positive, lively, and energetic emotions, as well as with the sun and summertime.
Gray- is associated with negative emotions, including sadness, depression, boredom, confusion, tiredness, loneliness, anger, and fear.

Color Learning Tools
Many children spend most of their day in school, dealing with a black and white world, with few sprinkles of color. Their textbooks, worksheets, and workbooks are printed mostly in black and white, and they use black lead pencil or dark colored pens to complete their assignments. For the analytical, left-brained child, this might be perfectly fine for temporarily focusing on the task at hand. The artistic right-brained child, however, who may see the world primarily in color and pictures, often requires more color for their academic success. 

Here are some simple color tips to help your child learn better, regardless of what side of the brain they favor.

  • If s/he is having difficulty learning sight words, have him or her write them in colored pencils. 
  • If your child isn’t retaining facts using the traditional white flash cards with black ink, try this! Use colored flash cards or write the questions and facts in different colors. Write them in your child’s favorite color.
  • Sometimes kids need other clues to help them memorize. This is where color comes in. Tell them colorful stories and pictures to support the lesson. 
  • Have your child use a colored pencil on math homework. Here’s your job! On a separate sheet of blank paper, model the correct math steps in a colored pencil. Use a different color for each step.
  • For memorizing subjects that can be subdivided, such as the times tables, use a different colored flash card for each set. For example: 1s times tables in red, 2s times tables in green, 3s in blue and so on. Also, dividing big assignments into smaller ones makes them psychologically less daunting. It’s less intimidating, for instance, to memorize say, 12 times tables cards at a time. 
  • For memorizing information, such as spelling words, science terms, or geography terms such as state capitals, your child can make his own study aids. Have him draw a colorful picture to prompt his memory and create a story to go with it. Then, in color, write the facts that need to be memorized on the picture or include them in the story. Your child will enjoy learning and memorizing much more than we did with those painful traditional methods that we endured. Most importantly, he’ll retain the information.
Children with ADD, ADHD or on the autism spectrum tend to be sensitive to color stimuli. You know your child best. So, 
create their learning aids in colors that support, rather than hinder, their learning. For more information that support 
children with these specific needs, please read our article on Color and Autism.  

Denise Turner-masterfully navigates two worlds of color. As an international, award-winning interior designer and colorist, she helps businesses to drive sales with color. As a ColorTherapy expert and Energy Medicine healer, she utilizes color to empower others to heal themselves and their families. Turner is an ASID (American Society of Interior Designers) professional member, Certified Interior Designer, CMG (Color Marketing Group) Board of Director, former ASID chapter president, and UCLA graduate.